Lake Delton, Wisconsin Dells looking into police merger

Lake Delton, Wisconsin Dells looking into police merger

After years of discussion, officials in the twin tourist towns of Lake Delton and Wisconsin Dells have approved a plan to have a consultant look into the feasibility of merging their respective police departments.

Tom Diehl, a Lake Delton village board trustee, said a University of Wisconsin-Madison study recommended merging the agencies more than three decades ago.

“We did a merger study back in 1981,” Diehl said. “The recommendation of the study was that it made sense to merge the two police departments.”

Diehl said issues of dispatching costs derailed the recommendation. Now the two municipalities are once again looking into the idea.

Diehl said one of the main reasons a combined, regional police agency would make sense is that most visitors don’t know the difference between the village of Lake Delton and the city of Wisconsin Dells, as businesses generally market the entire area as the “Wisconsin Dells.”

“Our residents certainly know the difference between the village and the city,” Diehl said. “However, the traveling public that makes up our visitors does not know it.”

Wisconsin Dells Mayor Brian Landers, a former Dells police officer, agreed.

“A lot of our locals have said that they think it’s kind of ridiculous that we have two different departments,” Landers said. “The lines blur on a map and to a lot of our visitors, nobody really knows the difference.”

Landers said a merged department would be yet another level of cooperation between the city and the village.

“It’s merged together on our sewage commission, it’s merged together in our parks and recreation department, and it’s merged together in our EMS department,” Landers said.

Landers said the study will look at two major factors.

“This study will tell us if (consolidation) is possible and what’s the best way of implementation, number two,” he said.

Landers said a larger, combined department could benefit both jurisdictions by allowing for a way to attract and retain good officers and a pooling of resources between the departments.

“Instead of having two smaller departments now you have a larger department with more purchasing power,” Landers said.

Landers said he expects the study to take a few months; if the results of the study favor a merger and it is approved by both city and village officials, he said a full implementation of a consolidated department could take at least two are three years.

He said details like the name of a combined agency or who would run it would be some of the last to be determined.

“These things take time,” Landers said. “(The study) is the first car in the train; the name of the department is one of the last few cars in the train, and that’s an awfully long train.”

Diehl said he hopes the study proves beneficial to both towns.

“We have two unique police departments and have done a marvelous job on public safety,” Diehl said. “But we can’t close the door on trying to be much more efficient and effective.”

Diehl said a combined fire department could follow if a police merger is successful.